11 Apr 2012
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Alice in Chains - 'Down In A Hole' (live, MTV Unplugged)

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Last Thursday (5th April) marked 10 years since the death of Alice in Chains’ vocalist Layne Staley. Unique among other Seattle grunge bands specifically because of Staley’s vocal stylings, it feels as good a time as any to pull an AIC track from the archives and have another listen.

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'Down In A Hole' was released as a single in 1993, taken from the album Dirt and was performed as part of AIC’s MTV Unplugged set in 1996 (which actually ended up being one of the band’s last ever performances with Staley). The song’s a bit softer than typical AIC fare and the movement of the song through the softness of the intro and first verse to the crushing dark storm clouds of the chorus make it a real stand out moment in the Unplugged set.

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So many of the words written about Staley refer to the uniqueness of his voice, and the way that his vocals interplayed with Jerry Cantrell’s. His technique for recording his voice was unique too:

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"It was on Alice in Chains’s sophomore album Dirt that Staley would develop what became his signature sound: heavily layering his vocals in the studio by recording two or three vocal tracks in multiple intervals. The technique, called stacked vocals, “was totally Layne,” Alice in Chains producer Dave Jerden says. Staley hadn’t discussed or explained in advance his idea for stacking his vocals to Jerden: “What he would say to me when we did that stuff is he had it all worked out, and he would just say 'Give me another track.' 'I want to double it.' 'Now let's triple it.' He was just telling me what he wanted to do, and we’d do it.”“

- David De Sola, 'How Alice In Chains Found The Most Memorable Voice In Grunge', The Atlantic

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Of Staley’s performance on ‘Down In A Hole’ AllMusic’s Ned Raggett writes:

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"His half-strangled but still amazingly evocative performance, especially when Cantrell backs him up, is heartfelt and almost yearning. The end result feels like a ruined man looking for some sort of comfort, hoping to escape, even when the lyrics talk about "feeling so small" and being kicked in the teeth, a struggle without end."

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And that’s the core of it really. The "ruined man looking for some sort of comfort" is a character embodied so completely by Staley’s voice on this song, that it’s just killer to listen to. And if you like the sound of 'Down In A Hole' check out the rest of the MTV Unplugged set

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KS


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